Purpose: Thailand is a developing economy underpinned by high levels of wealth inequality and an ingrained patronage culture. This research aims to examine how social enterprises (SEs) have been encouraged in Thailand in recent years as “micro-level challenges” to capitalism and their potential impact in addressing inequality. Design/methodology/approach: Through analysing policy documents and consultations, this paper traces the development of Thai policies intended to encourage SEs’ development. Additionally, the paper uses case study interviews and documents to demonstrate how SEs tackle inequality. From these, a framework is developed, outlining SEs’ roles and interventions to reduce inequality. Findings: Thailand’s new policy is in contrast to those countries where SEs face policy neglect. Nevertheless, government has been slow to embed processes to encourage new SEs. Despite SEs’ “challenge” to capitalism, listed companies are increasingly providing in-kind and financial support. The case study data shows SEs reduce inequality as they work with rural citizens to increase their employment and incomes. This work may also contribute to diminishing rural citizens’ dependency on political patronage. Research limitations/implications: While SEs can address inequality gaps, the research includes only existing SEs on specific lists. Nevertheless, the Thai experience will be useful to other developing countries, especially those beset by political patronage. Originality/value: The research shows legislation is insufficient to support SE growth and inequality reduction. The framework highlights the need for both government policy attention and interventions from donors and companies to support SEs’ efforts.
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- Patronage governance
- Social enterprise
- Thai social class